An Armand Gamache novel not at least partly set in Three Pines? What will I do with myself? I have so much enjoyed knowing a whole town involved in a murder mystery, as well as the detective and his team.
Despite the initial trepidation this set off in my head, it was quickly allayed by the story that Louise Penny laid before me. This was really damned good. Even if it had a heartbreaking ending. Penny's understanding and portrayal of human nature in all its warts and beauties shines through every page.
There are two things going on in this novel: the main mystery, and the longer through-line that has been there since the very first Penny book. The pieces have started to fall more into place the last couple of novels, and it's both upsetting and exciting to see where she will go with it. What will happen to our beloved Gamache?
So, the main mystery. It takes place, as I said, not in Three Pines, but in an extraordinarily remote monastery in northern Quebec. This monastery had lately become a sensation with the release of an album of Gregorian chants. The resulting fame has caused the monastery to go even further inwards, behind the walls they built to hide themselves from the world and the Inquisition. But the money the recording has brought in has split the community, a split made brutally clear when one man is killed. This brings Gamache and his right hand, Beauvoir, to the doors of the monastery, to carry out an all-too-earthy investigation.
And as a main mystery, this was a good one. Penny has a sure hand in creating all her characters, and the monks sprang to life off the pages. And they weren't treated with condescension, nor with pity. Each had their own reasons for joining such a reclusive order. This is not a novel where religious characters are simply called hypocritical and dismissed. But neither is it one that then assumes that religious belief is incompatible with pettiness, jealousy, and the kind of pain that eats away at someone until they lash out.
As for the larger storyline about Gamache and his place within the Surete de Quebec, and his relationships with his subordinates, particularly Beauvoir, we have seen what was coming come for such a long time. Those cracks that fester, those moments where trust is withheld because of personal pain, the type of hurts that lead to the murders Gamache has investigated, they have been dropped in, moment by moment, for books. And reach a breaking point here. More than one character we know and love comes close to their personal moment when they could commit murder.
I don't want to say anything more, for fear of spoiling this one. But it's very sad, and upsetting, and yet, we know who Gamache is, and perhaps have some idea of what he'll do next. I look forward to finding out. And I hope that certain things are not irrevocable, but they may well be.
Crossposted to Smorgasbook